A long time ago, I was invited to write a review of the NRSVue of the Bible, in exchange for a copy (all this through Mike Morrell at Speakeasy). I reasoned that as I own many copies of the NRSV in varying bindings with varying annotations and varying bonus features, I was unlikely to buy a copy of the ue (the Updated Edition, styled in lowercase so as to foreground the extent to which it’s still a bearer of the NRSV brand) — so I might as well write a review and earn a copy. That’s how and why I’m writing this hot… lukewarm… cool to the touch… all right, downright cold take on this new edition. (To be fair to myself, I only received the copy at the end of October, and although I had promised to write a review within a month, one or two things have happened since then, as you may have noticed.)

This edition is from Zondervan, the brown Leathersoft edition. I’m not sure whether it’s their ordinary or personal size.

First things first: I deplore the proliferation of biblical translations. The profound value of having recognisable, memorable points of reference far outweighs the benefit of having boutique translations for very contingency. Now, that’s technically not the case of the NRSVue, which is not a new alternative, but a step in the evolution of the KJV > RV/ASV > RSV > NRSV trajectory. Apparently, the NRSV (non-updated edition) will not be reprinted in the future, or so we are told. But the printing of updated editions of Bibles has almost the same effect; more sales opportunities, more near-duplicate buying, and less recollection of just what one verse or another says. Yes, by all means, it’s important to address ableist language, person-first characterisation, and continuing refinement of gender inclusivity. But, woe, alas, I rue the effect that frequent ‘updates’ and near-infinite alternative editions has on general biblical literacy.*

Finally, very few reviewers comment on one of the greatest hindrances to fine, vigorous major Bible translation: to wit, the necessity of producing Bibles that can justify the cost of production by selling in vast numbers. You need to produce a translation that can be read aloud in church, but there are some biblical locutions that would cause a scandal if one read them from the legilium. So no matter the good intentions or laudable (or damnable) ideology informing the translation, it must be church-able, and that militates against a translator’s freedom to propose the translation that best expresses what the translator perceives in the text. Indeed, even the relatively anodyne question of whether ekklêsia should be translated ‘church’ — there’s very little semantic basis for reading the word that way — would be off the table for a translation that expects to sell to the ecclesiastical market.**

All of that being said: I will continue to use the NRSVue as I have used the NRSV since it was first promulgated. I haven’t seen a translation whose rationale involves no special pleading, but I find the special pleading of which one may plausibly accuse the NRSVue noticeably less egregious than those of other translations. I have particular annoyances about some decisions that have made their way from NRSV to -ue. For instance, the NRSV opts, in the name of gender inclusion, to translate adelphoi sometimes as ‘brothers and sisters’ (fine with me), but other times as ‘beloved’, which has the double drawback of (a) being the most prominent translation for agapêtoi (‘beloved’, a different word Paul knows and uses in other contexts); and (b) suggesting to the English reader that Paul is here varying his rhetoric when in fact he’s repeating a term that he uses very often. I just don’t understand the rationale for that decision. The NRSVue commendably corrects these, resorting usually to ‘brothers and sisters.’ I wonder whether modern readers perceive ‘brethren’ more as male-coloured than as a collective term for a group of sympathetic people, but so long as the NRSVue isn’t trying pushing ‘beloved’ (or other misleading alternatives) I’m not going to kick up a fuss.

The physical characteristics of this Bible — soft leather-like binding, two ribbons, gilt edges, presentation page, floppy enough for a reader who requires (for some reason) floppy Bibles — all seem excellent for the short interval during which I’ve used it. The type for the body copy — you knew I would comment on it — is ‘Zondervan NRSVue’, a bespoke design from 2K/DENMARK. It reminds me somewhat of Huerta Tipográfica’s Alegreya; moderate contrast, serif, sturdy and readable even at small sizes. Granted how thin the pages must be, they are much more easily turned than some thin book papers (students may affirm the sight of me standing in front of a lecture room trying desperately to turn a page that my old, dry fingers can’t gain traction.

Tl;dr — You probably already know whether you want an NRSV or some rival; the NRSVue probably won’t affect that inclination. It doesn’t change that much, and the changes I see are for the better.

* Of course, I would say that, as a cardholder for almost every social privilege operative in the 21st century Euro-American cultural sphere — I know, I confess. I have no brief against these translational imperatives (by no means anti-‘woke’); rather, alert to some of the losses attendant on doing the right thing when one criterion militates against another.

** Yes, I said ‘in the text’. It’s a perfectly viable shorthand for a state of affairs that all my readers will recognise, and as such it does not bind me to metaphysical claims about textuality.

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